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Veterans: A Natural Fit to Close the Skills Gap

National, regional, and corporate initiatives are helping to connect those leaving the military, who need careers, with U.S. employers, who need skilled workers.

Workforce Q1 2015
Along with stateside job fairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) job fairs, has also held recruitment events in Germany and plans to do so in Italy and Asia, according to Eric Eversole, executive director Of Hiring Our Heroes, and a vice president at the U.S. Chamber.
Along with stateside job fairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) job fairs, has also held recruitment events in Germany and plans to do so in Italy and Asia, according to Eric Eversole, executive director Of Hiring Our Heroes, and a vice president at the U.S. Chamber.
In the next five years, between 1 and 1.5 million members of the U.S. Armed Forces will leave the military, according to the Department of Defense. Many of these veterans will be seeking new careers; by a great margin, veterans cite finding employment as their number-one need when returning home.

And here’s another statistic: a 2012 report by the consulting firm of Deloitte noted 600,000 jobs that have gone unfilled at U.S. manufacturers because of a shortage of skilled workers.

Veterans need careers, and manufacturers need high-quality employees. Fortunately, in recent years, a number of training programs and hiring initiatives have been developed to address those two needs.

National Initiatives
One of the biggest efforts to train veterans for manufacturing careers is Get Skills To Work, launched in 2012 by four of the largest U.S. manufacturers, the Washington, D.C.-based Manufacturing Institute, and other partners, in order to train military veterans for careers in advanced manufacturing. More than 500 manufacturing companies are involved, along with about 50 community colleges, where vets can use their GI Bill benefits to pay for training.
Veterans need careers, and manufacturers need high-quality employees. Fortunately, in recent years, a number of training programs and hiring initiatives have been developed to address those two needs.
The program brings together manufacturers and educators to train veterans for “a high-tech career track, not just a job,” says AJ Jorgenson, director of Communications for the Manufacturing Institute in Washington, D.C. The program is focused on “closing the manufacturing skills ‘gap.’ Veterans coming out the service have a great set of skills and also ‘soft skills,’ like integrity, hard work, and teamwork, which manufacturers need,” Jorgenson adds. The coalition is seeking additional partners to meet its goal of reaching 100,000 veterans by the end of 2015.

Another major initiative is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) job fairs. More than 1,700 businesses of all sizes have pledged to hire 585,000 veterans and their spouses as part of the campaign. Of those commitments, 369,000 hires have been confirmed, with thousands more in the pipeline right now, according to the Chamber. Along with stateside job fairs, HOH has also held recruitment events in Germany and plans to do so in Italy and Asia, according to Eric Eversole, executive director Of Hiring Our Heroes, and a vice president at the U.S. Chamber. “Manufacturing is such a natural destination for so many young service members, because it provides real, long-term economic opportunity for them and their families,” explains Eversole.

State and Regional Initiatives
Between 2013 and 2016, 480,000 U.S. Army veterans will leave the military and go through the Army’s Transition Assistance program, based at Fort Knox, in Kentucky. In Louisville, a group of business and government leaders has created the Where Opportunity Knox initiative, a workforce development program that aims to connect veterans and their spouses with employers in the area. The initiative, which launched in September 2014, has a goal of connecting 2,500 veterans with employers in its first year.
If you ask a veteran, ‘Do you want to be in manufacturing?’ a percentage will say ‘I’m not going to work in a factory.’ I would ask a slightly different question: ‘Do you want to work with robots, lasers, and high-tech machinery?’ There’s a natural opportunity there (for veterans) because manufacturing is set up a lot like the military: both involve a career progression of learning. Eric Eversole, Executive Director, Hiring Our Heroes’
The initiative is managed by the Kentucky Indiana Exchange (KIX), an organization comprised of leaders from Kentucky and Indiana focused on creating a regional workforce. KIX and its managing partners — Greater Louisville Inc., One Southern Indiana (a regional economic development organization), and the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce — created Where Opportunity Knox, hoping to connect 10,000 veterans and their spouses with available jobs in the Louisville area in the next three years.

Since it’s estimated that about 70 percent of jobs are filled through networking, one of its functions is to help individual vets build their civilian networks, according to Eileen Pickett, the group’s economic development advisor. So far, the effort has about 94 participating employers who have hired more than 100 vets. About 25 of those employers are manufacturers.

“We view this as not just the right thing to do for people who have served, but also as an economic development strategy,” Pickett says. “We’re trying to build a pipeline for transitioning vets, and working with local employers to help them understand the potential value vets can bring, and tap into that great talent.”

Another regional initiative is the state of Iowa’s Home Base Iowa (HBI), launched in November 2013 as a public-private partnership to match military veterans with promising career opportunities across the state. To advance these efforts, the Iowa Business Council pledged a goal of 2,500 veterans hired by its member companies and institutions no later than December 31, 2018.

According to Elliott Smith, executive director of the Iowa Business Council, the program has resulted in the hiring of about 600 veterans or their spouses thus far. About 125 of these individuals were hired by manufacturing companies including HNI Corp., Kent Corp., Pella Corp., Rockwell Collins, Vermeer Corp., and Wells Enterprises.

“Deere & Company is one of those still developing a reliable internal reporting process,” Smith says. “Given its sizable presence in Iowa, I expect they will contribute significantly to our totals once data starts coming in.”
We view this as not just the right thing to do for people who have served, but also as an economic development strategy…We’re trying to build a pipeline for transitioning vets, and working with local employers to help them understand the potential value vets can bring, and tap into that great talent. Eileen Pickett, Economic Development Advisor, Where Opportunity Knox
Corporate Initiatives
A number of individual corporations have also mounted efforts to train and place vets in manufacturing jobs. Several years ago, Saginaw, Michigan-based Merrill Technologies Group launched the Merrill Institute to train welders for manufacturing. Merrill Institute is located in Alma, Michigan, inside of Merrill Fabricators, a Merrill Technologies Group business unit.

So far, the institute has trained between 30 and 40 veterans, nearly all of whom have found employment with Merrill or other companies, according to Jason North, manager of Operations and Industrial Training at the Merrill Institute. North says, “Vets are wonderful employees. They are a very disciplined and respectful workforce. We don’t have to worry about basic, employee-performance issues like attendance or showing up late.”

In addition, Washington, D.C.-based Siemens PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) USA has developed the Veterans Initiative Program, offering free training in computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, and PLM software. The program provides scholarships to cover the cost of instructor-led training classes executed at its Siemens PLM Software universities. Last year, 26 veterans took advantage of the training. In 2015, Siemens is offering 47 classes at eight training centers across the U.S., according to company spokesperson Kate Eby.

Changing Perceptions
Hiring Our Heroes’ Executive Director Eversole offers some advice for manufacturers hoping to source veterans as talent. He notes that an outdated perception of manufacturing as a low-skill occupation still exists, in spite of the fact that nearly all manufacturing jobs now require high-tech skills.

“It’s really key for manufacturers to think about how to sell their industry as a long-term, viable economic opportunity for these young service members,” Eversole says. “If you ask a veteran, ‘Do you want to be in manufacturing?’ a percentage will say ‘I’m not going to work in a factory.’ I would ask a slightly different question: ‘Do you want to work with robots, lasers, and high-tech machinery?’ There’s a natural opportunity there (for veterans) because manufacturing is set up a lot like the military: both involve a career progression of learning.”
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